Sunday’s victory over the Cowboys was a positive sign for the Bears. Not just because they improved their record to 2-0. Not just because their conference record stands at 2-0. But because Sunday’s game was one of the toughest the Bears will have faced all season regardless of how talented or not the Cowboys truly are.
The Bears had not won in Dallas in more than 20 years and winning on the road is never easy in the NFL, especially against a team with the kind of talent that the Cowboys possess.
Perhaps one of the most glaring, and yet unheralded, strengths of yesterday’s performance was the coaching of offensive coordinator Mike Martz and offensive line coach Mike Tice. Both men had to make adjustments on the fly and did so with flying colors. Martz had to neutralize the Cowboys’ blitz because Jay Cutler was getting roughed up in the first quarter despite the line permitting just one sack. So he called a few plays that allowed Cutler to get rid of the ball quickly and the Cowboys then had to back off. Tice, meanwhile, lost Chris Williams to a hamstring injury and inserted Kevin Shaffer in his place. Shaffer struggled on the left side so Tice swapped he and right tackle Frank Omiyale and the line protected Cutler well for the rest of the game.
Cutler continued to play well for the Bears for the second straight game, fourth if you go back to the last two games of last year. He completed 21 of 29 passes for 277 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. He connected with Johnny Knox on a 59-yard bomb on 3rd-and-15. He also hooked up with Greg Olsen on a 39-yard catch-and-run touchdown and likewise with Devin Hester on a 38-yard reception.
Despite having an integral role in last week’s victory over the Lions with 5 catches for 71 yards, Devin Aromashodu did not see any action this week, likely a result of the key drops that Aromashodu had against Detroit. In his place, Earl Bennett caught 5 passes for 29 yards. Knox led the Bears with 86 yards on 4 catches. Hester had 77 yards on 4 receptions, including a terrific one-handed grab in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. Matt Forte continued to play a role in the passing game as he caught 5 passes for 37 yards and a touchdown, his third in two weeks.
It’s a good thing the Bears were able to incorporate Forte into their passing game because the run game still couldn’t get things going. Forte finished with just 29 yards on 10 carries and Chester Taylor had 6 yards on 4 carries. Right now, the lack of a run game is a concern, but it would be full blown panic mode if the Bears were not winning. At some point, the Bears will have to get a respectable performance from their run game because good teams need to run the ball against the better teams in the league. Some teams can get by without racking up big rushing totals — the Saints, after all, had just 51 rushing yards in last year’s Super Bowl — but you have to keep the defense honest and take heat off Cutler.
The defense exhibited another solid performance allowing just one offensive touchdown by the Cowboys. If you had to nitpick and point out something that needs to improve, the first choice would be the pass rush. Julius Peppers and Tommie Harris had neither a sack nor a tackle and that’s something that can’t happen from the defensive line’s two top players. Fortunately, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs continue to terrorize the opposition from the second level of the defense, and Charles Tillman’s presence in the secondary was a key reason the Bears won the game. Tillman drilled Cowboys receiver Miles Austin just as the ball touched his hands and second-year nickelback D.J. Moore caught the deflection for the first of his two interceptions of the game. Later in the game, Moore and Tillman teamed up again as Moore wrapped up Roy Williams after a reception and Tillman punched the ball out. Urlacher fell on the fumble and the Bears were able to run some more time off the fourth-quarter clock.
Special teams were okay save for a 62-yard punt return for a touchdown they allowed. Robbie Gould converted two more field goal attempts and Brad Maynard kept the Cowboys’ offense deep in their own territory and dropped one punt inside the 20.
On the injury front, aside from losing Williams to a hamstring injury, the Bears lost rookie safety Major Wright to the same injury, which he hurt during the punt return touchdown. Fortunately, the Bears have played well enough in the secondary where they won’t be pressed to rush Wright back to action.
Are the Cowboys that good a football team? Is the team that a lot of analysts predicted before the season would be the first ever home Super Bowl participant as good as they are hyped? Chances are they are not. However, that doesn’t diminish this road victory against a good Cowboys team, even if they’re not Super Bowl contenders. There are still skeptics out there who doubt the Bears but there won’t be any doubting next Monday. The Bears will host the Packers on Monday Night Football in a battle between the unbeaten NFC North division leaders. The Packers are another team — probably more so than the Cowboys — that have been predicted to go to and perhaps win the Super Bowl this season.
We’ll truly know where the Bears stand late Monday night.